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Middle East Digest

April/May 2000

In This Issue

From the Editor

The Arab/Muslim Nazi Connection

Old Man and the Sea
IDF Leaving Lebanon After Assad Sinks Golan Deal

Oslo in a Rut
Schedule Revised, But Same Old Issues Plague Israel-PA Talks

Mixing Faith And Politics
Israel, PA Court Pope During Holy Land Tour

Viewpoint - Les Enfants Terribles

News Briefs

Middle East Hourglass


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News Briefs

MORE HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS

Criminal probes of top Israeli political figures continued to dominate headlines in recent months. In April, police recommended closing the investigation of President Ezer Weizman for accepting over $400,000 in secret cash gifts from French millionaire Edouard Seroussi. The report found insufficient evidence to indict Weizman for bribe-taking and tax evasion, and while there was ample proof he committed fraud and breach of trust, the five-year statute of limitations had expired on those charges. Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein and State Attorney Edna Arbel will now determine whether to close the case; Rubinstein is expected to simply issue a strong condemnation of Weizman for violating accepted ethical norms. Despite the apparent reprieve, Israeli papers and politicians still called on him to resign. A poll found 56% of Israelis agreed, with most feeling police went easier on Weizman than on other politicians under recent scrutiny. The 76-year-old ex-fighter pilot finally said he would leave office before his term is up in 2003, but cited health reasons instead. Sources believe he will look for a quiet moment to exit, with Shimon Peres his leading replacement.

Meanwhile, a national fraud squad ended its exhaustive, bruising, seven-month investigation of former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu by recommending indictments against him, his wife Sara, and two office staff on various charges related to unpaid maintenance bills and alleged theft of state property. The special police unit suspects Netanyahu of obstructing justice, bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, while his wife faces charges of attempted fraud and theft. The report focused on the Netanyahus’ failure to pay for work by a private contractor and their alleged attempts to pass on the costs to the state. During the ensuing investigation, police rifled through the Netanyahus’ private home and a state warehouse, and found some 700 gifts received while Netanyahu was in office, but which are deemed state property. Netanyahu called the charges "baseless" and suggested they were politically motivated to prevent his possible comeback to national office. He explained they offered to pay the contractor, but he "kept putting us off," and said the dispute involved only how much was owed. Netanyahu said the gifts were locked in a government storeroom, and they planned to sort through them in time and place some in the office provided for former prime ministers, as allowed by law. The police actions actually boosted Netanyahu’s popularity, according to a Gallup poll published in early April. The survey showed Netanyahu in a virtual tie with current Prime Minister Ehud Barak (42% each) in a theoretical race between the two, the first time he has pulled even since Barak handily defeated him, 56-44 percent, in last May’s elections.

Police were heavily criticized for their over-zealous pursuit of the Netanyahus and for repeated leaks to the press. This stood in sharp contrast to the deference shown Weizman, who was discreetly questioned in his official residence without any tipoffs to reporters. In addition, Netanyahu is accused of obstructing justice for speaking with the contractor once the story broke in the press, while Weizman is not being charged with the same crime, even though he sent his top assistants to "persuade" a journalist not to publish a story about his misdeeds.

Next in line, Transportation Minister Yitzhak Mordechai took a temporary leave from office in early March in the face of sexual harassment charges filed by an unnamed female on his bureau staff. The story broke just as the country marked International Women’s Day, adding to the sudden public focus on the former IDF chief-of-staff. Leaked details of the sex scandal said Mordechai made unwelcome contact with the staffer on several occasions. Several other women soon came forward with similar allegations, some dating back to his army days. Police eventually advised charging Mordechai on three counts of committing indecent acts by force against three women within the last eight years. If convicted, Mordechai could face a maximum prison sentence of seven years. Mordechai proclaims his innocence, but added if the attorney-general decides to indict him, then he would resign from the cabinet and fight the charges in court. If Mordechai relinquishes his position, Barak may use the opportunity to reshuffle his cabinet and coalition. The future of the new Center party, which Mordechai heads, is also in doubt after he led it to a poor showing in last year’s elections.

Not to be forgotten, PM Barak (the campaign finance scandal), former Cabinet minister Avigdor Kahalani (the tangled Nimrodi affair) and Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (incitement), among others, currently are under investigation or will be questioned by police about criminal wrong-doings. Stay turned!

COALITION WEATHERS ADVERSITY<

The broad-but-fragile coalition government strung together by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak continued to show signs of collapse in recent months, particularly along the Shas-Meretz fault-line. Education Minister Yossi Sarid of the leftist Meretz party has refused to allow his deputy minister, Meshulam Nahari of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, to take charge of Shas’ private school system. Sarid insists it would be like "letting the cat guard the cream," since the education network is riddled with unpaid debts and corruption. In a Purim sermon on March 18, Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef referred to Sarid as "Satan" and a modern-day "Haman" that needed to be eradicated. The remarks sparked a public outcry, and although Yosef explained he was not advocating violence, he remained unapologetic. A week later, Yosef likened Sarid to "Pharaoh" and labeled him a "Torah-hating racist." Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein felt he had little choice but to open a criminal probe on whether the comments constituted criminal incitement to violence, a sensitive issue in Israel ever since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Shas threatened to leave the coalition over the inquiry, but decided to stay put for now, after police treated Yosef with kid’s gloves. Meantime, Shas delivered a set of demands to Barak, prompting Meretz to issue its own threat to leave the government if they are accepted. Barak’s efforts to broker a compromise have had limited success, and were put on hold over the Passover holiday.

Barak also survived several no-confidence votes, including a Likud-sponsored motion centered on Sarid’s proposal to introduce Israeli school children to the works of Mahmoud Darwish, a leading Palestinian poet with extreme nationalist views. Sarid riled many Zionist and religious MKs with his decision to include a selection by Darwish in the high school curriculum. The motion was defeated 47 to 42, but one-third of Barak’s cabinet voted against him. Even members of the secular Shinui party voted no confidence in Barak, including chairman Tommy Lapid, who denounced Darwish’s poem entitled, "Get off our land." Meanwhile, Knesset members left and right have called on Barak to reopen the coalition agreements or form a unity government because of dissatisfaction with the lack of progress on socio-economic issues or the peace process, while the option of early elections is also being seriously considered for the first time.

PA HAMMERS HATE INTO CHILDREN

Teachers in Palestinian schools are instructed to drill into students’ minds that "Zionism is racist and aggressive," and to implant the value of "wrath toward the alien thief who stole the homeland and dispersed its people." Such are the chilling findings of a new report by the Palestinian Media Watch center, headed by Itamar Marcus, based on a review of the official teacher’s guides accompanying textbooks used in Palestinian Authority schools. The center monitors Palestinian newspapers, TV and radio broadcasts, and school textbooks for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic content. In a prominent report last year, Marcus found PA textbooks were filled with inciteful descriptions of Jews and Israelis as cunning, deceitful and treacherous, and routinely referred to Israel as the "Zionist enemy" and "oppressors." The new 19-page study reveals that the required PA teacher’s guides contain much the same. For example, PA teachers must prepare students for a "Jihad" to liberate all of "Palestine" and to "cherish the Jihad fighters who quench the earth of Jerusalem with their blood." They are to instill in their students the idea that "Jews are dangerous enemies of Allah, Islam and the Arab nation." They also are instructed to equate Zionism with "Facism-Nazism," to portray Jews as racial and religious zealots, and to explain this as the reason why Christians persecuted Jews over the centuries. Meanwhile, new PA history books define Israel as a "thieving conqueror," while the only map of "Palestine" in PA textbooks eliminates Israel.

With the advent of Oslo in 1993, Israel pioneered a curriculum promoting peace with its Arab neighbors. But the PA has maintained a hostile curriculum that calls for liberating all of Palestine, while describing Israel, Jews, and Zionism in the most demonic of terms. A senior PA official defended the material exposed by Marcus, saying, "We are sovereign and we will determine what we will teach our children, without any interference." Palestinian mouthpiece Hanan Ashwari also dismissed Marcus’ work as "too much Israeli paranoia and suspicion," and "highly exaggerated much ado about nothing." But Marcus - an Israeli member of the largely-ineffective joint anti-incitement committee set up with the PA and US after the Wye accords - responded: "If we are continuously portrayed as people who stole their land, that will breed terror, not peace." Despite the damaging report, the US is increasing its support of Palestinian education by another $10 million.

"LAND DAY" RIOTS SPARK STUDENT PROTESTS

Annual "Land Day" protests by Palestinian and Israeli Arabs turned violent again on March 30, leaving dozens hurt. The largest rally, and most injuries, took place in the Galilee town of Sakhnin, where hundreds of masked youths broke from a 10,000-strong march and attacked an IDF base and Israeli troops keeping a low-profile in nearby woods. Eight Israeli policemen and over 20 rioters were wounded. Violent demonstrations were also staged in Hebron, Ramallah, Nablus, Gaza and elsewhere. At one rally, Arab MK Hashem Mahmeed – the first Arab member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee - exhorted: "Israeli Arabs must learn from Hizb’Allah how to fight for their lands, in the same way that Hizb’Allah forced Israel out of Lebanon." The crowd responded with wild cheers and applause. Land Day marks the anniversary of riots in 1976 when six Israeli Arabs were killed protesting the expropriation of their land by the government.

Afterwards, Arab students at leading Israeli universities held follow-up demonstrations, beginning with a large disturbance at Haifa University to protest the death of a woman who inhaled tear gas at the Sakhnin rally. A second day of riots at Haifa University erupted after an Arab student was arrested for assaulting a Jewish student. The campus unrest spread to Tel Aviv University and to Mount Scopus, where protests marred the opening of Hebrew University’s 75th anniversary celebrations. During the several days of riots, Arab students shouted nationalist slogans, waved Palestinian flags and clashed with police, while Jewish students countered with "Hatikvah" and Israeli flags. Meanwhile, a recent poll found Israeli Arabs increasingly identifying themselves more as Palestinians living in Israel than as full-fledged citizens. A full 80% of those surveyed defined themselves as Palestinian Arab.

JUDGE RULES IRVING A "PRO-NAZI POLEMICIST"

After an intense, three-month trial, a London judge convincingly ruled in favor of American Professor Deborah Lipstadt against self-taught British historian David Irving in a milestone verdict on the authenticity of the Holocaust. The result of the high-profile libel suit was hailed by Israeli leaders and Jewish groups worldwide as "a victory of truth over hate," after many feared that - since the burden of proof was on the defendant Lipstadt under British libel laws - the verdict could have been a major setback to efforts at countering an upsurge in Holocaust denial and neo-Nazism. During one dramatic turn, Israel rushed Lipstadt the classified prison memories of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann written before his execution in 1962 in order to help with her defense. Afterwards, Lipstadt said she was filled with "intense joy and deep gratitude," but also felt heartache for Holocaust survivors who had attended the trial and watched Irving’s mockery firsthand.

The findings vindicated Lipstadt on most of the libel charges connected with her 1994 book, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory." Although she fell short in proving certain minor points about Irving in her book, the judge found they did not have "any material effect on Irving’s reputation." In fact, Justice Charles Grey concluded Irving had little reputation to damage, classifying him as "a right-wing pro-Nazi polemicist." Grey found he deliberately manipulates historical evidence to suit his own ideological agenda. He added that Irving unjustifiably characterizes Hitler in a favorable light, specifically in his attitude toward, and treatment of, the Jewish people. He found Irving had allied with extreme right-wing neo-Nazis, and was himself an "anti-Semite", a "racist", and a "Holocaust denier". In addition to legal defeat and public disgrace, Irving will have to pay legal fees of at least $5 million. Meanwhile in a similar development on April 10, a Swiss court handed down a one-year prison term to Holocaust revisionist Gaston-Armand Amaudruz, who - like Irving - rejects the existence of Nazi gas chambers and claims the extermination of over 6 million Jews was "impossible."

IRANIAN JEWS FIGHTING FOR THEIR LIVES

The trial of thirteen Iranian Jews charged with espionage will start on May 1 after defense attorneys won a two-week extension until after Pessach, saying they needed more time to prepare their case. The Jews, along with eight Muslims, are accused of spying for the US and Israel, but both countries deny any connection with them. Ten of the Jews have been detained for nearly a year, while three were released on bail last month after being charged with lesser offenses. Despite intense international pressure for their release, or at least a fair hearing, the trial will proceed behind closed doors - including a ban on relatives and the media - due to "national security" reasons. If convicted, the suspects could face the death penalty. In a similar case three years ago, two Jews were executed at a Tehran prison.

At its apex, Iran’s Jewish community totaled 100,000 in modern times; it has now shrunk to approximately 25,000, still the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel. The trial is threatening the possible renewal of US-Iranian relations after "moderates" recently won national elections and the US subsequently lifted a 20-year import ban on certain Iranian luxury items. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright hopes the gesture will help open a new dialogue, but she also cited US concerns about Iran’s support for terrorist groups opposed to the Middle East peace process and the country’s involvement in drug trafficking. Albright said Iran’s treatment of the 13 Jewish suspects will be a barometer of whether Tehran seeks improved ties with the West. But Iranian hard-liners appear determined to use the case as a pawn in the nation’s domestic power struggle.

US STEAMED AT ISRAELI AWACS SALE TO CHINA

President Jiang Zemin just finished the first-ever official visit by a Chinese head of state to Israel amid controversy over Jerusalem’s sale of an advanced airborne radar system to Bejing. The AWACS transfer is opposed by the US, with the Clinton administration leaning heavily on Prime Minister Ehud Barak to cancel the contract signed three years ago with China, arguing it will upset the strategic balance of power in Asia and endanger Taiwan and possibly US forces. Key members of the US Congress offered the White House "added leverage" by threatening to fence $250 million of Israel’s annual foreign aid package, the price of the first plane. But Israel views its developing relations with China as economically vital, and a means of deterring Chinese arms transfers to Iran and other regional adversaries. Israel sells one-fourth of its military exports to China, helping develop its essential domestic arms industry. Commenting on the US power play, Zemin indirectly lashed out at American attempts "to monopolize international affairs and control the fate of other countries." Israel is sensitive to American concerns, but currently plans to honor its contract for delivery of one such plane - which does not contain sensitive US technology and includes an option for up to seven more aircraft. Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said that in the competitive international arms market, "there are no friends," and that the criticism arose because China is a hot topic in this year’s US presidential race. He dismissed the argument one early warning plane could upset the military balance in Asia. Sneh noted Washington’s sale of AWACs to Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, while reassuring Israel that they were purely defensive. Sneh also charged the US with using a double standard, a "steamroller" for Israel and a gentler attitude for other friendly states like Britain and France, who also competed for the Chinese contract, but were beaten fairly by the Israeli bid.

The US duplicity showed when Washington recently announced the sale to the United Arab Emirates of 80 "Block-60" advanced F-16s built by Lockheed Martin in a $6.4 billion deal approved by Congress. The F-16s will be equipped with better radar and weapons systems than those sold in recent years to Israel, threatening to further undermine the US commitment to help maintain Israel’s qualitative edge against any potential array of regional foes. The Pentagon, afraid of losing out to a European conglomerate on the lucrative sale, even approved including radar systems more powerful and precise than those used by the US Air Force. The deal includes $1.3 billion worth of missiles and weapons for the fighter jets.

AMNESTY RIPS SAUDI REIGN OF TERROR

In a new report, Amnesty International accuses Saudi Arabia of operating a justice system founded on terror, secrecy and torture, resulting in an average of two public beheadings every week, plus an occasional maiming. The Saudi regime adheres to strict Islamic sharia law, allowing courts to impose sentences of amputation for theft and public executions for murder, rape and drug trafficking. Amnesty revealed the government has "systematically targeted its political and religious opponents, and abused the rights of migrant workers, women and other relatively powerless individuals." Trials involving serious charges are completed in secret in only a few minutes and often result in death or amputation. Amnesty counted at least 1100 executions in the past twenty years. Decapitations with swords are done in public squares on Fridays. Guns are used in cases involving women, sparing them the shame of uncovering their head and neck in public. At least thirteen people have been beheaded so far this year. Other punishments include amputations, with five cases of "cross amputation" - left foot/right hand - this year alone. Christians, Sikhs and other minorities are especially targeted by security forces. Saudi officials blasted Amnesty’s report for applying Western standards of justice to a Muslim state.

HIGH COURT SPRINGS LEBANESE DETAINEES

Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered the release of thirteen out of 15 Lebanese detainees held without trial for over ten years each as "bargaining chips" for information on Israeli MIAs lost in fighting in Lebanon in the 1980s. The judgment stated the detainees could not be held without trial unless they posed a threat to state security. After a last minute appeal by the family of missing IAF navigator Ron Arad failed to keep them all in prison, the 13 were freed on the eve of Passover. The two remaining detainees are leading clerics for Islamic terrorist factions who were kidnapped from their homes, Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid of Hizb’Allah in 1989 and Mustafa Dirani of Amal in 1994; they are still considered "dangerous to national security." Israel’s security cabinet decided to rush through the Knesset a bill that would assure Obeid and Dirani remain in custody as "illegal fighters" under international law. Six other detainees were released in recent months, in what Israel termed goodwill gestures to spur progress on the Syrian peace track, but to no avail.

SOURCES FOR THIS DIGEST: Jerusalem Post, Israel-Line, Ha’artez, Reuters, AP, CNN, Arutz-7, IBA News, Washington Post, Jerusalem Report, BBC, IMRA, Sky News, CNSNews.com, New York Times, The Independent, London Times, IRNA, Financial Times.

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